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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 December 2007, 09:14 GMT
TV's annus horribilis
By Torin Douglas
BBC News media correspondent

The year started so badly for television, few guessed how much worse it would get.

the Queen
The row over BBC One's Queen documentary caused heads to roll
In January, allegations of racist bullying on Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother sparked a record 44,000 complaints to the media regulator Ofcom and an international diplomatic incident, as Gordon Brown was visiting India.

Yet, by the end of the year, Shilpa Shetty and Jade Goody had been all but forgotten in the flood of phone-vote scandals, inquiries and fines which engulfed broadcasting in a crisis of trust.

Heavy punishments were so commonplace that a 1.5m fine on Channel 4 just before Christmas - the third highest in broadcasting history - caused hardly a murmur.

Fittingly but unwittingly, it was the Queen who ensured 2007 would go down as television's "annus horribilis".

The editing of a trailer for a BBC press launch made it look as though she had stormed out of a photoshoot with Annie Liebowitz.

In fact she had stormed in (and then made it up with the photographer, as the documentary later revealed).

'Systematic failure'

The subsequent row brought down the controller of BBC One and the head of the production company RDF Media.

Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan
Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan said they were "livid"
If even the Queen could be traduced by television, people said, what hope was there for anyone else?

Worse, the guilty party was not a fly-by-night digital channel but the BBC, the flagship public-service broadcaster - with a statutory duty to uphold accuracy and balance.

The crisis of trust hit all the terrestrial broadcasters. Ofcom said there had been a "systemic failure of compliance" over phone competitions and broadcasters were "in denial".

  • Channel 4's Richard and Judy was the first programme tarred with the suggestion that viewers were being cheated. Would-be participants for its 'You Say We Pay' quiz were encouraged to phone in at premium rates after the contestants had already been chosen.

    Richard Madeley said he and Judy Finnigan were "livid" - the first in a succession of high-profile presenters forced to apologise to their viewers and dissociate themselves from the shoddy production practices of their programmes.

  • Five announced it was shocked to discover that the producers of its Brainteaser quiz had actually made up the names of winners. A member of the production team had even gone on air as a `winning' contestant. In June it was fined 300,000 by Ofcom.
  • The BBC admitted it too had faked a competition winner, on - of all programmes - Blue Peter. A child who was visiting the studio had been asked to ring in when no genuine callers could get through.

    The BBC issued a humble apology to viewers, ordered an investigation and tightened up its rules. It was fined 50,000 by Ofcom, the first such fine in the BBC's history. But its own inquiry uncovered yet more irregularities on flagship TV programmes such as Children in Need and Comic Relief, and on several radio shows.

    Some staff lost their jobs and on these cases the BBC awaits the verdict of Ofcom in 2008.

  • GMTV was fined 2m - the biggest penalty so far - after the BBC's Panorama programme revealed that millions of breakfast TV viewers had lost more than 10 million over four years because quiz lines closed early. After an initial denial, there was another on-air apology and GMTV's managing director resigned.
  • ITV faces the biggest fine of all - conceivably as high as 70m, five per cent of its revenue - when Ofcom finally unravels the extent of its premium-rate errors and misdemeanours.

Paul Corley
GMTV's Paul Corley apologised to his viewers - then quit his job
Early in the year, when the problems first emerged, ITV's executive chairman Michael Grade took the moral high ground.

After viewers of The X Factor were accidentally overcharged due to a telecoms failure, he suspended all its premium-rate services, vowed to pay the money back, and commissioned the auditors Deloitte to conduct an independent review. The quiz channel ITV Play was taken off the air, costing ITV millions of pounds in lost income.

In a speech, Grade urged all broadcasters to rebuild trust with their audience, saying there must be "zero tolerance" of dishonesty in all types of programmes. But when ITV finally published a summary of the Deloitte report, no ITV heads rolled, even though the wrongdoing was greater than in the cases that had gone before.

Breaking rules

The review showed that in several of ITV's most popular shows - including Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, Gameshow Marathon, and Soapstar Superstar - producers ignored viewers' votes and picked songs or contestants they preferred.

Ant and Dec
Ant and Dec's shows were caught up in the scandal
In all, viewers wasted almost 8 million pounds on premium-rate phone calls that had no influence on the programmes. Grade said he was shocked and blamed a "serious cultural failure within ITV".

In 2007, it became clear that many in broadcasting were routinely breaking the industry's own rules or guidelines and possibly the law.

And though some transgressions were clearly wrong - prompting possible investigations by the police - even experienced programme-makers found themselves divided as to which production practices were "acceptable" and which were not.

The BBC is now sending all programme-makers on a course called Safeguarding Trust, where they debate the line between acceptable "artifice" and unacceptable "deception". That debate will continue in 2008.



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